Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another wowser heard from

Why am I not surprised that someone writing in the NY Times wants to raise taxes? This time on booze. David Leonhardt cites a load of specious reasons for raising taxes on the anodyne of the poor in his mendaciously titled Let’s Raise a Glass to Fairness, inspired by a book, Paying the Tab, by Peter Cook, a Duke University economist. This economist can't tell the difference between a tax and a subsidy:

Each of the three taxes is now effectively 33 percent lower than it was in 1992. Since 1970, the federal beer tax has plummeted 63 percent. Many states taxes have also been falling.

At first blush, this sounds like good news: who likes to pay taxes, right? But taxes serve a purpose beyond merely raising general government revenue. Taxes on a given activity are also supposed to pay the costs that activity imposes on society. And for all that is wonderful about wine, beer and liquor, they clearly bring some heavy costs.

Right now, the patchwork of alcohol taxes isn’t coming close to covering those costs — the costs of drunken-driving checkpoints, of hospital bills for alcohol-related accidents and child abuse, and of the economic loss caused by death and injury. Last year, some 17,000 Americans, or almost 50 a day, died in alcohol-related car accidents. An additional 65,000 people a year die from other accidents, assaults or illnesses in which alcohol plays a major role.

Mr. Cook, besides being a wine lover, has been thinking about the costs and benefits of alcohol for much of his career, and he has come up with a blunt way of describing the problem. “Do you think we should be subsidizing alcohol?” he asks. “Because that’s what we’re doing.”
"We" subsidize drunkenness to the extent that some recipients of disability payments spend the money on booze. To say that not taxing something is the same as subsidizing it is to fall into the same sort of Newspeakery that makes it a "budget cut" when a government agency's budget is increased less than someone (administrator, legislator) had asked for. A smaller increase is still an increase. If you can pass through Sherwood Forest without being robbed, Robin Hood has not given you a subsidy. Low taxes do not "cost" the government money that it never had to begin with.

I'll dissect this phony "reasoning" further in a while; right now I need a couple of drinks. In the meantime, go read what Glenn Reynolds has to say about it.

Later: The call for an increase in taxes sounds to me like "Let them eat cake." The Times writer, the Duke professor, what is a couple of dollars increase in the price of a bottle of Champagne to them? I am reminded of the sort of billionaire Democrats who think everyone's taxes should be increased. There's another post in that: in the days of ancient Rome, as now, wealthy politicians ran for office, promising everything under the sun to the voters; but in those days, if elected, they paid for the bread and circuses themselves!

The article, like the book, is a call for a regressive taxation scheme, based on phony numbers, with social engineering as its goal.
• Regressive: Good booze is too good for the poor; if the manufacturers won't raise the prices enough to keep the stuff the writer likes out of the hands of those not in his socio-economic class, well then, the tax power of the government can be used for that purpose.
• Phony numbers: Old stuff, but the MADD propaganda machine doesn't quit. The expression "alcohol-related" is the tip-off. If a passenger in the car not at fault was tipsy, that counts as alcohol-related. Links: National Motorists Association. Responsibility In DUI Laws. (Ugly formatting, interesting numbers:) GetMADD: Real Numbers. A business writer ought to have better grasp of numbers … oh never mind, it's the Times.
• "Taxes on a given activity are supposed to pay the costs …" Supposed to? Where is that in the Constitution? Taxes are "supposed to" raise revenue. How about a tax on newspapers to pay for recycling? The Times is in a bad place to be talking about tax fairness, considering the combination of eminent domain abuse and tax breaks involved in clearing the ground for its new HQ.

This is the Times' business section. If this is the kind of wisdom they can muster over there, it's no wonder the paper's own stock is down as far as it is.

Update: Bill Quick has a post on this.
More on wowsers, with quotes from Candace Lightner, founder of MADD, who does not like what that organization has become: Prohibition Returns!

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